With the pandemic continuing to dominate how we lead our lives, there is one practice that seems to be worsening for all of us: our screen time. For parents, this reality is particularly concerning as children are spending more time glued to digital devices than ever before. In fact, 85% of parents are stressing over their kids’ excessive screen time and more than half believe that children will be addicted to technology by the end of the coronavirus pandemic.
With screen time increasing more than 500% since 2019, these concerns are highly valid. Developing a technology dependence from a young age is not only detrimental to health but can also deprive children of offline activities that aid development and behavior. What parents should aim to do this year is to learn more about the potential risks their children are exposed to and set realistic and tailored boundaries for technology use at home.
The Risks Of Too Much Screen Time
Recommended screen time for kids went out the window last year as schools and socialization became virtual. The result was 49% of kids being online for over 6 hours a day – using smartphones, laptops, Ipads, and TV to carry out most of their daily activities. Likewise, social media usage spiked replacing what used to be after-school activities for many children. Now, while it is important for families to remain flexible and try to adjust to our new reality- it is still wise to stay conscious of the risks to prevent long-term damage to your child’s mental and physical health.
Below are some of the most common risks that children face when they spend too much time on screens:
Development delays relate to communication difficulties, impaired motor skills, and emotional deficits. Excess exposure to screens is a contributor to early developmental problems in young children particularly within the ages of 2-5.
Mental Health Disorders
Technology dependence and increased use of social media has proven to trigger anxiety and depression in kids. Children who spend a significant amount of time online are more likely to experience cyberbullying or ADHD.
Sedentary Lifestyle Habits
Long hours online often go hand in hand with a sedentary lifestyle. Too much screen time can take time away from physical activity such as sports or exercise – putting kids at a higher risk of obesity and health issues associated with this.
The blue light that digital devices emit has proven to disrupt sleeping cycles and increase a child’s chances of suffering from insomnia. Likewise, the use of social media and technology before bed can cut into children’s sleeping hours which can lead to sleep deprivation, lack of concentration, mood swings, and other health issues.
Why Screen Time Content Matters (More Than Ever)
Despite all the drawbacks of excessive screen time, parents must keep in mind that not all screen time is the same. As we have all learned in the past months, the digital world can provide plenty of opportunities if used responsibly and correctly. While many parents may not be able to follow the CDC guidelines of 2 hours of screen time for their kids, they can turn their attention to a more prominent and controllable issue: content.
Online content can encourage either active participation or mindless consumption. Mindless consumption occurs when children scroll through social media for hours, binge watch TV series, or absorb and obsess over the news (an increasingly greater issue during a global crisis). This content can add to their anxiety and lead them to reinforce unhealthy habits. Positive content, on the other hand, can include platforms that encourage content creation, games that enhance creativity, or reliable and informative articles that support their education and peace of mind. Where most parents struggle is understanding where social media fits in all of this.
Effectively, social media can provide both types of content which is why it’s so important to monitor this. During times where socialization is limited, video calls or time on Facebook can actually be improving your children’s health by allowing them to maintain connections and networks. The key is to ensure there is balance and purpose with social media use. Teaching kids what kind of content is valuable and worth their time is an indispensable skill to carry into the future.
Reassessing Boundaries Around Technology
If you want 2021 to be the year where your kids finally develop a good relationship with technology then it might be important to rethink your household rules when it comes to digital media usage. Although lockdowns and social distance protocols might seem like obstacles to these goals, they can actually work in your favour.
Here are some guidelines to consider that can help you guide your kids to build better screen time habits:
Allow them to invite you into their world
If your child has to spend hours on a screen, get curious about their activity. If they are partaking in virtual school, try to join in for a few sessions (or encourage a family member to if your work schedule does not allow). The same applies if they are playing a video game, or uploading content on social media. Let them let you in to understand their virtual world. This will allow you to gain a better perspective about what content they engage with and how this is shaping their character and habits. It will also be a bonding experience.
Create a screen time plan together
When trying to set rules around digital media use, focus more on balance rather than restriction. Children respond better to advice when it is not an all-or-nothing approach. Remember that kids are also victims of the pandemic and everyone is just searching for different ways to cope. What is recommended is to sit down with your family, and together come up with a screen time plan. This screen time plan can be made up of technology hour limits, bedtime schedules, and maps where devices should not be used such as the dinner table. For every rule set, try and explain to your child the benefit and habit you’re hoping to instill for them.
Communicate about the dangers of social media
Having honest and mature conversations with your children about the risks of social media is a must. The aim is to make them aware of the addictive qualities that social media platforms have, and the dangerous content that they can encounter.
By showing kids examples of appropriate and inappropriate behaviour online, warning them about keyboard warriors, cyberbullying, and misinformation they can begin to navigate the space more cautiously. Social media is a major part of our kids’ world these days, which makes it important to focus on helping them understand it, not solely limit it.
Encourage being present and purposeful
One of the greatest drawbacks of technology is its ability to distract us from the real world. To prevent this, encourage your kids to adopt the habit of being mindful and present. Invite them to play games offline that require a certain level of attention and concentration such as chess or a sport.
Similarly, you can promote spiritual practices, or journalling to make kids more introspective and purposeful. Remember, to try to lead by example. Look up from your screens when a child is talking to you, and dedicate “no screen times” for the entire family if possible. This exercise can improve your child’s relationships and family dynamics.
Of course, it is no parent’s dream to see their kids’ energy and attention being sucked in daily by screens and social media. However, as our world becomes increasingly more remote – it is a reality that we need to tackle wisely. If we wish to help children avoid the harmful consequences of technology, then there might not be a better time than right now to teach kids good tech habits while they are fully immersed in them.